Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

What if the net goes down?


Last night my internet connection went down. I waited an hour, nothing. I’d only been signed up to this service for a month so I thought, what if there wasn’t enough money in my bank account and they tried to take the second month’s payment, and couldn’t, so cut me off?

I phoned the help line and heard straight away the automated message that they were dealing with a “major service incident.” How major? How major is major? I wondered. Was it just my ISP that was affected? The whole of the UK? The whole world?

This wasn’t blind panic – I’m already stocked up with supplies to last me a couple of months and I have my pre-packed disaster evacuation bag, recommended by the department of homeland security, and Sarah Connor.* But I did ponder such a situation quite rationally.

The internet has gradually encroached on our lives in such a way that if you took it away, lots of things just simply wouldn’t work. Facebook wouldn’t, for example. How lost would people feel to be suddenly unable to tweet #bored. There would be no “lets ask Google what’s happening”, perhaps even the TV and Radio stations would struggle to bring us accurate reports, because they too are used to the internet being there. Perhaps even phone networks would struggle – directory inquiries at a loss as to how to tell us what number we want. I’m sure supermarkets would be affected too, even down to smaller shops – all relying on an interconnected stock-ordering and logistics system to keep the shelves stocked (of course there would be panic buying). Banking systems would be affected, surely, there would be no internet banking, obviously, to check your account or transfer funds – cash machines too, would be affected. How much do our local branches rely on the internet being their to track the funds tooing-and-froing from our accounts, let alone the debit and credit card systems to pay for stuff?

If we take a step back to the “before broadband” time when the internet was taking off, and we found ourselves with dial-up connections, then just back again a little further, to the time just before the internet was being relied on as a network, there was the true computer-based and peer-to-peer system that was more true a system than peer-to-peer systems today (which use the internet). What I mean is, big stores may have been able to dial-up head office with a computer and its modem and put through an order that way, modem-to-modem, no middle-man or internet backbone required beyond that of the telephone system. Most businesses have long since ditched such systems, and even the fax systems have largely gone by the wayside. Therefore, reverting to such methods, should our modern internet ever go down, wouldn’t be so easy. I have a few 56K modems knocking about so perhaps they’d suddenly become much sought-after, should such a situation arise!

I’m not meaning to cause worry with these sorts of ‘hypothetical’ scenarios, but I do feel like our way of life, our reliance on and expectations of technology, survive on a knife’s edge. It almost seems like we’ve been lucky for the past couple of decades and the use of the internet has persisted unscathed by the little blips along the way – blips like occasional virus scares, things that never really materialised like the Y2K thing or other bugs found in the underlying technologies we use (that still crop up) – the fact that these blips have had very little impact on our day-to-day use of the net, or our lives, has perhaps inadvertently reassured us that everything is fine, and always will be. And perhaps it will. In fact I’m a little surprised that the big hacker groups failed to take something big down a decade or so ago, of course some big names have been hacked but these were just trivial to many, and in some ways it seems the time has passed for such groups (if they ever existed) to make their move. Perhaps such groups never existed – perhaps they were just a myth glorified through the media and in our entertainment – perhaps the threats we hear about today are no better; orchestrated by “the powers that be” to keep us in order. But now I’m sounding like a conspiracy theorist.


*Big Bang Theory quote


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